Interesting Facts

PATOIS IN TRINIDAD - FROM JOHN JACOB THOMAS TO LAWRENCE CARRINGTON


DID YOU KNOW…?

  • that French Creole, a.k.a. Patois, Kwéyòl, or Kreyol, is spoken the world over, from the Atlantic to the Indian Ocean?
  • that in the Americas, French Creole is spoken from Louisiana in the USA to Amapá in Brazil, and in at least EIGHT Caribbean territories?
  • that more than 9 million people speak the language?
  • that the name French Creole in Trinidad refers not to a language but to people (the French and their descendants, and also other Euro-Trinis)?
  • that there are dozens and dozens of French place names in Trinidad and Tobago, and that even Spanish names have either been translated into French, or adapted to a French/Patois pronunciation?
  • that Patois was once the lingua franca of Trinidad, crossing every ethnic, social and geographic boundary?
  • that many Patois speakers (Afro-descendants and mixed persons) also spoke French and/or sang French songs, and that many French speakers (French Creoles and others) also spoke Patois and/or sang Patois songs?
  • that Patois is still spoken in Paramin, Valencia, Blanchisseuse, Toco, Arima, Santa Cruz and Moruga in Trinidad?
  • that one of the first ever grammars of any French Creole anywhere was produced by a Trinidadian (John Jacob Thomas) right here in Trinidad, in 1869?
  • that one of the pioneers of the study of St Lucian French Creole was a Trinidadian (Lawrence Carrington)?
  • that Patois is spoken in Paria in eastern Venezuela?
  • that, just as there are standard writing and spelling systems (orthographies) for languages like English and French, there is an alphabet for St Lucian French Creole, easily adoptable by Trinidadian and Venezuelan French Creole?
  • that it is very easy for Trinidadians who speak Dialect (Trinidadian English Creole) to learn Patois, since there are almost exact grammatical correspondences? (see below)
  • that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the entire Bible have been translated into Haitian? (St Lucia has the New Testament and some Psalms.)
  • that the Internet can be used to support language revitalisation efforts, like this one?
  • AND that Patois is taught within UWI and also outside at Women Working for Social Progress (Workingwomen) by a UWI graduate of the French Creole class?

Many names for one language…

Patois
Patwa
Creole
Créole
French Creole
Creole French
Kwéyòl
Kreyol

French Creole or Patois may have many names, but one that does not fit is ‘broken French.’

SOCIAL AND OFFICIAL STATUS

Many myths surround Patois, one of which is that it is not a ‘real’ language, or that it lacks a ‘real’ grammar, or that it cannot be written, or that it is ‘simplified’ French. The term ‘broken French’ implies that speakers of Patois have never learned ‘good’ French and that both the language and the speakers of the language are somehow inadequate and inferior to French and to the French. No language is broken.

In the past and to some extent the present, because of the higher socio-economic status of French speakers and the lower status of Patois speakers, Patois has been looked down on and even scorned by native and non-native speakers alike.

While French has long enjoyed a good reputation around the world as the language of culture, haute civilisation, and refined living, the reputation of Patois has been just the opposite. This has everything to do with the origins of the language (that is, its long association with slavery and with lower socio-economic classes in French-governed societies), rather than any inherent and intrinsic linguistic “flaws.” In countries around the world, the social and/or official status of French Creole is very varied. In Haiti, Ayisyen (Haitian French Creole) is an official language; and Moriysen from Mauritius, Seselwa from Seychelles, Réunion Creole French, and Kwéyòl in St. Lucia are all making great strides, with more and more valuable literature being produced in all of these national varieties. In these nations, specialists have helped to develop standardised spelling systems, and dictionaries and grammars have been published. Patois is used for a range of functions in a range of domains, like any other language.

IN TRINIDAD

In Trinidad, our Patois remains a living language in some communities and families. It continues to live on in the everyday speech of Trinbagonians. Patois was the first language of calypso, and up to recently it flourished in communities like Paramin in the form of Christmas Kwèch (crèche) music. Many want to see the language come alive again in Trinidad. This is possible through concerted community efforts, and through the dedication of trained and experienced teachers and language documentalists.

UWI scholars and interested persons have undertaken many projects to document and preserve the language in Trinidad and throughout the region. There are already several books documenting proverbs, stories and songs in French and French Creole (including books by John Jacob Thomas, Anthony de Verteuil, Elsie Clewes-Parsons, Florence Blizzard & Nnamdi Hodge, and others). Courses in French Creole are offered at the Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics (DMLL), of the Faculty of Humanities and Education. In DMLL, the course is approached as one of both language learning and linguistic analysis for students reading for the Bachelor of Arts degree. Occasional courses at the Centre for Language Learning (CLL) focus on communicative competence. Students discover the origins of the language, examine language structure at the level of sound, vocabulary and grammar. Students of the language are trained to read, write, speak and understand the language. St. Lucian is most often the target variety (based on a Peace Corps course designed by American Albert Valdman and Trinidadian pioneer linguist, Lawrence Carrington in 1969), and students are exposed to different varieties of the language through field trips in Trinidad, and to St Lucia and Martinique, and through contact with speakers from Haiti, Dominica, Guadeloupe, and via audio-visual support material. Outreach literacy programmes have been started in Patois-speaking areas. Students also join the UWI Asosyasyon Kwéyòl and help to organise the UWI celebration of the annual Jounen Kwéyòl, started in St. Lucia in 1981, and celebrated internationally on 28 October since 1983. Students have also produced a newspaper, a magazine and a DVD in French Creole.

Some Trinbagonian place names of French and French Creole origin

Abbé Poujade, Anglais Point, Avocat, Bagatelle, Bande Leste, Basse Terre, Beau Pres Road, Begorrat's Cave, Belle Eau Road, Belmont, Beausejour, Belle Garden, Belle Vue, Biche, Blanchisseuse, Bois Jean Jean, Bois Neuf, Boissière, Bon Accord, Bon Air, Bonasse, Bonne Aventure, Bourg Mulatresse, Cap-de-Ville, (Le) Carenage, Cascade, Champs Elysées, Champs Fleurs, Charlotteville, Coco Jean (Coco Jah), Covigne Ravine, Crapaud Village, Croisée, D'Abadie, De Gannes Village, De Verteuil Street, Du Bois Terrace, Embacadere, Felicity, Fond Pois Doux Road,Francique, Gran Chemin, Gran Couva, Gran Curacaye, Grand Lagon River, Grande Anse Bay, Grande Rivière, Grande Terre, Granville, Gros Morne, La Fantaisie, La Fillette, La Finette,La Florissante, La Fortune, Lagon Doux River, Lagon Mahaut River, Lagon Palmiste, Lambeau, L'Anse Chette, L'Anse Contré, L'Anse Defour, L’Anse Fourmi, L'Anse Guyia, L'Anse Martin, L’Anse Mitan, L'Anse Noire, L'Anse Pa Jean, L'Anse Pouchet, La Lune, La Paille, Lapeyrouse, La Retraite, La Rufin, La Rue Pomme, La Sagesse Road, La Romaine, La Vache, Laventille, Le Platte, L'Eau Michele, Leotaud Morne, Leotaud Lands, Les Coteaux, Les Efforts, Lopinot, Louis d'Or, Macaque Hill, Mal d'Estomac Bay, Matelot, Mon Chagrin, Mon Desir, Mon Espoir, Mon Plaisir, Mon Repos, Moreau, Morne Bleu, Morne Cabrite, Morne Catherine, Morne Chaleur, Morne Coco, Morne Cyril, Morne Diablo, Morne Distrée, Morne Espoir, Morne Hayaral, Morne Jean, Morne La Croix, Morne La Vigie, Morne L’Enfer Reserve, Morne d'Or, Morne Paoui, Morne Pierre, Morne Poui, Morne Quiton, Morne Rene, Morne Roche Road, Mt d'Or, Petit Bourg, Petit Café Road, Petit Curacaye, Petit Trou, Petit Valley, Petite L'Anse, Pierreville, Piti Morne, Plaisance, Plum Mitan, Pointe Baleine, Point(e) Gourde, Point Ligoure, Pointe-à-Pierre, Pois Cassé, Pomme Rose Avenue, Riche Plaine (Rich Plain), Roussillac, St Clair, St François, St Julien, Sainte-Croix, Ste Marie Point, Ste Madeleine, Saline Bay, San Francique, Sans Souci, Saut d'Eau, Terre Promise, Trois Rivières, Trois Roche Village, Trou Macaque, others with Ville, and many, many more (street names, estates, topography, etc.), and the hyphens in Port-of-Spain.

Many Spanish names became French - La Luna > La Lune, Punta de Piedra > Pointe-à-Pierre, Punta Gorda > Point Gourde, Río Grande > Grande Rivière, and others, or made to sound French, like Cascadura > Cascadoux. Many other non-French names also gained a Patois pronunciation:
  • Chaguanas (prounounced with the <ch> as in 'church' in Venezuela, but pronounced with the French <ch> as in 'chef' here)
  • Chaguaramas (prounounced with the <ch> as in 'church' in Venezuela, but pronounced with the French <ch> as in 'chef' here)
  • Gaspar Grande > Gasparee
  • Icacos > Icaque
  • Lalin (from La Lune, originally from La Luna)
  • Any name with Petit(e) (see above) > Piti
  • San Juan
  • Siparia > Sipawee, and more.

Patois also has names for Arima (Awim), Port-of-Spain (Òpò), Manzanilla (Manzan), Mayaro (Maywo), Diego Martin (Dig Maten), Las Cuevas (Las Kwév), Toco (Òtòk), and others such as Güiria (Lawil).

Some Trinbagonian surnames of French and French Creole origin (including Corsican names)

Agostini, Antoine, Arnaud, Baptiste, Barcant, Bégorrat, Besson, Boisselle, Boisson, Bon, Borde, Boucaud, Cazabon, Charlerie, Christiani, Cipriani, Cornilliac, Coussement, d'Abadie, de la Bastide, de Bique, de Boissière, de Four, de Gannes, de la Grenade, d'Heureux, de Lapeyrouse, de Lisle, de Meillac, de Montagnac, de Montbrun, de Pass, des Anges, Deveaux, de Verteuil, Du Bois, Duval, Espinet, Fortuné, Fournillier, Francheschi, François, Ganteaume, Gioannetti, Gillezeau, Girod, Granger, Gregoire, Guillaume, Honoré, Jean-Baptiste, La Borde, La Foucade, Lange, Laurent, Le Cadre, Le Gendre, Léotaud, Ligoure, Loppinot, Loubon, Louison, Maillard, Majani, Mannette, Mazely, Melizan, Montrichard, Moreau, Mouttet, Olivier, Petit, Pitilal (half French Creole, half Hindi), Pierre, Pollonais, Pouchet, Poujade, Quesnel, Questel, Rochard, Renaud, Rostant, Rousseau, Sanoir, Seheult, Sellier, Thavenot, Toussaint, Vaucrosson, Voisin, Yuille, and many, many more (click herefor a general listing of surnames in Trinidad). Farfan is Spanish but is pronounced à la française.

Some Trinbagonian vocabulary of French Creole origin*

Flora: Barbadine, Bois Cano(n), Chataigne, Dasheen, Ditay Payee, Fig, Flamboyant, Immortelle, Mango Doudouce, Mango Long, Mango Rose, Mango Vert, Pika, Pommecythere, Pommerac, Shado beni, Sikyé, Ti Mawi, Topitambu, Zaboca

Fauna: Jep, Keskidee, Kobo, Krapaud, Mapipire, Zandoli

Carnival: Dame Lorraine, Dimanche Gras, Jabjab, Jab Molassie, Jouvert, Pierrot Grenade, Santimanitay

Folklore: Lagahoo, Lajablesse, Mama Glo, Papa Bois

Food: Cerise, Paime, Toolum, Kouveti Pocham

More: Bazodee, Bois bandé, Bosi-back, Canboulé, Chantwèl, Commesse, Dou dou, Flambeau, Jamette, Lagli, Lahé, Macafouchette, Maco, Macomere, Mamapoule, Mauvais langue, Maljo (also Spanish), Petit Careme, Poto Léglise, Salop, Shabine, Tantie, Toutoulbé, Tout bagay, Tout moun, Vay-ki-vay, Zafé, Zebafam, Zebapique

Direct translations/calques from French and French Creole:
It have’ (from 'i ni'),
She have 10 years’ ('li tini 10 an'),
to make baby’ ('fè ich/piti popo'),
to make hot/cold’ (from 'i ka fè cho/fwèt'), and
'which part' ('ki koté').

The use of 'does' which corresponds directly with 'ka' (e.g. 'Ah does go market every day' = 'mwen ka alé laplas touléjou' ), and the use of 'go' corresponding to '' ('Ah go marrid a nice woman' = 'mwen ké mayé yon bèl fanm'), etc.


Contact the School of Humanities to find out more about these courses and how you can get personally involved in the preservation and transmission of one of our oldest national heritage languages.

© 2003
Department of Liberal Arts (now Department of Modern Languages and Linguistics), School of Humanities, FHE
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
Phone: 662-2002, Ext. 2035/2036, Fax: 663-5059
Website: http://sta.uwi.edu/fhe/libarts/

*NB: The spellings used here are traditional spellings (many preserved in Lise Winer's Dictionary of the English/Creole of Trinidad & Tobago). See our Spelling Guide for modernised and standardised consistent spellings for the French Creole language (e.g., the letter <k> is used for all /k/ sounds as in komès ('commesse'), mako ('maco'), etc. English uses <c> for different sounds, e.g., "Call me on my cell."). Because of historical reasons, French (like English) has many spellings for one sound, for example, the sound /o/ (spelt 22 different ways in French). French Creole orthography, however, chooses to spell the sound /o/ in just one consistent way, namely, <o>.

This document was originally distributed as part of a brochure from the Department of Liberal Arts, Faculty of Humanities and Education (formerly the Department of Language and Linguistics, Faculty of Arts and General Studies). The brochure was written and updated by Jo-Anne S. Ferreira (© 2003 and © 2009). See more here. Thanks to Marvel Henry, Derek Parker and Philip Núñez for additional place names.